Baseline-to-baseline recaps: Heat set franchise record for wins, Lakers remain in playoff position

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while waiting for Microsoft Office to come to your mobile devices

Lakers 113, Trail Blazers 106: Kobe Bryant scored 47 points to out-duel rookie Damian Lillard, who finished with 38. Bryant dragged his team to victory for the second straight night, and we broke it down in greater detail here.

Heat 103, Wizards 98: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh didn’t play, but Ray Allen stepped up by matching a season-high 23 points, which he last accomplished Nov. 3. Fellow-old-role-player Rashard Lewis also scored a season high, finishing with 17 points. Just in case the absence of three of the game’s top players wasn’t enough, Miami’s style shook up the game. The Heat attempted 41 3-pointers (17 makes) and turned the ball over 22 times. — Dan Feldman

Nuggets 96, Spurs 86: The first quarter of this game was just flat out ugly. Both teams made a few defensive plays, but mostly there were just a lot of missed shots — Denver hit 5-of-23 (21.7 percent) in the first, which had them 8 points back of San Antonio 19-11. Corey Brewer and Wilson Chandler combined 4-13.

However, the Spurs never pulled away, in part because they started off shoting 0-7 from three. To be fair, San Antonio was without Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili. Eventually the Nuggets got hot — Chandler shot 9-of-15 the rest of the way, Brewer 10-of-18 and they finished with 29 and 28 points respectively. The game remained tight until a 23-3 run at the end of the third into the start of the fourth and that was it — playing shorthanded against the deepest team in the league finally caught up to the Spurs and it was the Nuggets bench that led the run.

With the win, Denver moves a full game up on Memphis in the race for the three seed in the West. The loss sends the Spurs into a tie with Oklahoma City for the best record in the West (both are 57-21), but OKC has the tiebreak as they will finish with a better record in conference. — Kurt Helin

Hawks 124, 76ers 101: After losing three straight – including a loss to this same Philadelphia team – Atlanta got easy shots and made them. The Hawks, who shot 59 percent on 2-pointers and 94 percent on free throws, are now tied with the Bulls for the No. 5 seed in the East. The 76ers – who’ve lost their last three games by 19, 21 and now 23 – might be done competing for the season, if not for their next three games being against teams that are similarly ready for this season to end: Washington, Cleveland and Detroit. — Dan Feldman

Magic 113, Bucks 103: The youngsters – Nikola Vucevic (30 points, 20 rebounds, five assists), Tobias Harris (30 points, 19 rebounds, five assists) and John Henson (17 points, 25 rebounds, seven blocks) – had ridiculous all-around games. That’s fine and dandy for the Magic, who are looking for a few positives at the end of a rebuilding season. But the Bucks should be gearing up for a first-round matchup with the Heat, not just showcasing Henson or worrying about seller’s remorse with Harris. That might be difficult, though, considering Brandon Jennings and Larry Sanders left the game with injuries. — Dan Feldman

Pistons 111, Cavaliers 104: If you were to start a team with a player who won’t make the playoffs this season, whom would you take? Two contenders played in this game: Andre Drummond (career-high 29 points and 11 rebounds) and Kyrie Irving (27 points and nine assists). Cleveland intentionally fouled Drummond late, but he made 8-of-14 free throws during that time to help hold off the Cavaliers, who gained valuable lottery positioning with a loss to the team just ahead of them in the standings. — Dan Feldman

Nets 101, Celtics 93: Boston settled for the jump shot and it failed them — Jeff Green was 4-of-17 on the night, Jason Terry 1-7, and the Celtics didn’t get their first free throw until more than three minutes had gone by in the second half. The Boston offense struggles unless role players like Green light it up (he is the bellwether for their offense) and he was off.

Deron Williams was on — he had 29 points and 12 assists. D-Will picked up 10 of those points in the fourth quarter to help stave off some Celtics pushes. Joe Johnsn added 20, Brook Lopez 21 for the Nets. — Kurt Helin

Clippers 111, Timberwolves 95: This is what the Clippers do — they destroy the teams they should beat. Los Angeles also did what coaches love to see in that they closed out quarters well — they went on a 16-6 run to close out the second quarter and a 19-6 one to close out the third and blow the game wide open. The Clippers were balanced with six players in double figures scoring led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin with 19 points each. And of course, Griffin had a few monster dunks. — Kurt Helin

Kings 121, Hornets 110: There haven’t been a lot of laughers for the Kings this season, but they got one Wednesday night — Sacramento started to pull away with a 14-2 run midway through the first quarter and they led by as many as 30. John Salmons had 22 points, 12 of those in the third quarter to make sure the Kings kept their lead. Jason Thompson and Marcus Thornton each added 20. — Kurt Helin

Suns 102, Mavericks 91: Dallas essentially no-showed for this game, and allowed a Phoenix team that isn’t exactly known for its offense to put up 61 first half points on the Mavs’ home floor. As a result, Dallas was officially eliminated from the playoffs, and will miss the postseason for the fist time since 2000. Not that the hopes were all that high for Dallas entering this one; the team has known since losing to the Lakers in Los Angeles on April 2 that it would take a not-so-small miracle for the team to get in, considering the records of both Utah and L.A. who are firmly ahead of the Mavericks in the standings.

President Donald Trump awarding Medal of Freedom to NBA star Bob Cousy

Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
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WASHINGTON (AP) President Donald Trump is set to present basketball legend Bob Cousy (KOO’-zee) with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The award is being handed out Thursday. It celebrates individuals with a wide range of achievements and is the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The 91-year-old Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame member played for the Boston Celtics from 1950 to 1963. He won six league championships and the 1957 MVP title.

Cousy is also known for speaking out against racism. He was an ardent supporter of black teammates who faced discrimination during the civil rights movement.

Cousy will be the second person to receive the award this year from Trump. Golfer Tiger Woods received the honor in May.

Report: Shelly Sterling, members of Clippers organization heard Donald Sterling audio in advance and didn’t act

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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In 2014, published audio of a racist rant by then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling rocked the country.

It shouldn’t have. Sterling’s racism and sexism were well-established by then. But few cared. The audio poured gasoline on the fire and moved people to act. I wish it didn’t require that. But it did.

What if the audio didn’t become public through TMZ? Apparently, there might have been opportunity for another outcome.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The fact is Shelly and several people in the Clippers organization heard the recording and decided not to act on it or weren’t appalled enough to act on it. Maybe they didn’t understand how big a splash this tape could make.

It’s unclear when Shelly Sterling (Donald’s wife) and other members of the Clippers organization heard the audio. Maybe it was while TMZ was doing due diligence. If so, it was probably too late to change the course of history.

But perhaps it was when V. Stiviano – Donald’s girlfriend who made the original recording and was being sued by Shelly – was still the only one in possession of it. Stiviano was clearly upset with how things were going financially between her and the Sterlings. For the right price, maybe the audio would have gone away before becoming public.

I’m glad it didn’t happen that way. The world is better off knowing exactly who Donald Sterling is.

Yet, this leads to an incredible “what if?” What if the people who heard the audio in advance understood the magnitude, acted in Sterling’s best interest and paid to have the audio kept secret? Would Sterling still own the Clippers today?

Kyle Kuzma scores on own basket in Team USA-Australia game (video)

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The Lakers are desperate at center. They might even need Kyle Kuzma to play the position. He’ll have to work on, among other things, rebounding.

At least it usually won’t go as poorly as this play in Team USA’s exhibition win over Australia.

Rockets betting on talent of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, everything else be damned

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

There is a tried-and-true method for winning an NBA championship: Get two recent MVPs. It has worked every time.

The Celtics paired Bill Russell and Bob Cousy. Won a title.

The 76ers paired Moses Malone and Julius Erving. Won a title.

The Warriors paired Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Won a title.

By acquiring 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook to join 2018 MVP James Harden, the Rockets are testing the limits of this plan.

Houston upgraded from Chris Paul to Westbrook in its trade with the Thunder. There’s certainly logic to that. Harden is in his prime, so this is the time to push in. It’s almost impossible to win a championship without stars. Stars are also hard to come by. Sometimes, you must just get whichever stars you can and hope for the best.

But Westbrook came at a significant cost.

Houston had to send Oklahoma City top-four-protected first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, a top-four-protected pick swap in 2021 and a top-10-protected pick swap in 2025. By the time most of those picks convey, the Rockets could be far worse.

The trade is salary neutral for the next three seasons, which partially explains why Houston gave up so much. Most teams would require a sweetener for taking Paul’s contract. But Westbrook’s contract runs a season longer, and the Rockets will owe him $47,063,478 at age 34.

There will be diminishing returns with Harden and Westbrook, two ball-dominant guards. They have the talent to figure it out offensively, though it will require major adjustments to how they’ve played lately. The defensive concerns are far bigger. Both players have frequent lapses on that end.

Westbrook, 30, has also declined the last few years. He remains quite good. But the way he relies on his athleticism, he could fall rapidly.

Based on name recognition on both sides, this is the most monumental trade in NBA history. In Houston, it will likely define the rest of Harden’s prime then – with those picks outgoing – the Rockets’ next phase.

Beyond that, Houston did well to build depth on a budget. The Rockets re-signed Danuel House (three years, $11,151,000 million), Austin Rivers (1+1, minimum) and Gerald Green (one year, minimum) and signed Tyson Chandler (one year, minimum). Most of the mid-level exception remains unused with the free-agent market largely dried up. But hey, luxury tax. Houston could still re-sign Iman Shumpert through Bird Rights.

The Rockets look pretty similar to last year – except Westbrook replacing Paul. That’s the enormous move.

I’m not even sure it will help next year, though. Houston could’ve kept Paul and fit squarely into a wide-open championship race. At least on paper.

The big unknown: How toxic was the relationship between Harden and Paul? Several Rockets denied a problem, but there was plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Westbrook is better than Paul. The two stars will likely get along better.

But will Westbrook add enough value to justify the high cost? All those draft considerations could have gone toward addressing other needs. Really, just needs. Houston didn’t need another ball-dominant guard one bit.

I support the Rockets prioritizing the present. Westbrook could propel them to a championship.

But given the fit concerns, the cost was too steep for my liking.

Offseason grade: C-